I can remember a time when I hated when plans with friends would suddenly change or fall through. It was such a letdown when I had been looking forward to exciting plans and was only met with feeling bummed and, sometimes, experiencing feelings of rejection, loneliness, and sadness too.
It can be frustrating having friendships with individuals who struggle with social anxiety. All the hype you instill, checking in, reassuring, and, especially, those moments when you are dressed and ready to go but receive an “I can’t make it!” text at the last minute.
You, friend, are not lost in the wake of your friend’s social anxiety. Your efforts are seen, appreciated, and are what keep us going. We would love nothing more than to live as socially as we are when plans are first made. We wish the waves of anxiety would halt for scheduled and unexpected plans. Without your help, we would probably be even more secluded than we already are. You are the breath of fresh air that encourages us to keep trying. You are the buoy that we can hang onto that keeps us afloat. But we know that even though we know how important you are to us, you may sometimes feel rejected, defeated, and tired. It is hard maintaining relationships with friends who mentally struggle. It is discouraging to make plan after plan, deep down knowing that the plans will not be followed through.
Your friendship matters to us, so let’s talk about some ways that you can help support your socially anxious friend:
Check-in Before the Event
There is an immense amount of anticipation leading up to moments of socializing. All the worries of what if, could be, and worst-case scenarios plague our thoughts. These worries pile up days, weeks, and even months before the event occurs. Of course, rationally, everything will be just fine. But in our minds, irrationally, everything will not be fine. And, our brain is stuck in the irrational even when you plead logically with us. Your advice, support, and help before the event matter to us.
Tip: Role-play different conversations that could take place, talk through different worries as they come up, have a plan for when to arrive and leave, and remind us that we’ve overcome hard things before.
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 27:17 NLT
Check in During the Event
Regardless of how the night is going, check in. We may be putting on our bravest face, talking endlessly, and appear to be comfortable, but, we could be talking faster than our brains can process. We could be drowning on the inside, doing our best to say all the right things and not embarrass ourselves. We could be planning how to get out of this situation and flee. We could be analyzing the body language and facial expressions of everyone around us and piling on all the emotions in the room.
Pull your friend aside for a quick “break check” as often as necessary, supplement conversation when you can, and be present.
“Therefore encourage and comfort one another and build up one another, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 AMP
Check in After the Event
After the event is over, cue the start-up of the merry-go-round of worries. Remember when I said we may be talking faster than our brains can process? Well, all we can think about is what everyone thinks about us, how embarrassed we are about things that we said, or analyzing every facial expression.
Talk on the drive home of the highs and lows, talk through any worries that come up, and check in as necessary in the following days.
“If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:10 NIV
Be Supportive, Even When You Do Not Understand
You do not have to personally understand our struggle to be supportive. You can be a safe person for us by giving us the space to wade through anxious thoughts without judgment or annoyance. Help your friend to distinguish the truth in the midst of the lies. Many times, we are so consumed or overwhelmed that we need someone to see our circumstances from a different perspective or viewpoint.
Look to God’s Word together to replace the lies with truth and talk it over with your friend, as you can, no matter how many times he/she brings it up.
“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 NLT
Please, don’t criticize our fears.
Making light of your friend’s anxiety can be an opportunity to break the ice, but please, don’t do that. Your friend likely already feels so defeated by their own thoughts about their struggles. Please, don’t add to the weight your friend is already carrying. How would you like to be treated if the role was reversed and you were the one plagued with distress?
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 NIV
Your feelings matter, too.
I think I can speak for your friend when I say we understand your feelings matter also. Let us know when it is too much or when you need a break. You are important to us! The last thing we want to do is be a burden or add to the weight you’re carrying.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
I have sadly experienced the loss of friendships due to my social anxiety. Friendships that I never wanted to see the end, but, inevitably, did. So, to the friends who keep sticking around, thank you! Thank you for accepting each of us as we are. Thank you for not giving up on us. Thank you for choosing to keep checking on us. Thank you for allowing God to use you in our struggle. We know, all too well, that this burden is heavy to carry, but we hope you know how much it means to us that we do not have to carry it alone. We acknowledge and see the love of Christ on display through your presence, your support, and your love.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Tero Vesalainen
Laura Spurlin is a Christian, wife to her high school sweetheart, mama to her kiddos, nurse, and writer that has a passion for sharing what the Lord puts on her heart about motherhood, mental health, and all things in the Word of God.